The United States economy is driven by small business. Those who are willing to take a large risk to follow their dreams have longed propped up the economy. During the historic pandemic that COVID-19 has created, entrepreneurs and small businesses have struggled.
The United States government is trying to save jobs by utilizing funds appropriated through the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program. But who is missing out on getting relief?
Entrepreneurs are not only people who grow businesses to 10-500 employees; they are also people who are one-person businesses. Those photographers, barbers, nail techs, candle and jewelry makers, freelance graphic designers, jelly makers, and exporters are the backbone of this country. A majority of the grant and loan programs are geared toward helping those who have employees, but what about the individuals who have relied on customers to sustain their businesses? There are limited festivals and other customer-facing opportunities for so many small businesses right now.
There have been efforts in local communities, such as in Oklahoma with the $50 million in grants that were offered to local businesses through the Oklahoma Commerce Department. This program was supposed to provide a maximum of $25,000 to help struggling businesses. As a business owner, I wanted to send my application in for consideration, as well. I filled out all the required paperwork with one of the over 170 banks that were approved to take applications for the grant. The submission for the application for their second wave of funding was Tuesday, July 14, at 8 a.m. I spoke with the loan officer and she let me know that they would be putting in my application for consideration. I emailed her on Tuesday morning to ask if everything was ready to summit, but I did not get a response, so I called her later in the afternoon and she told me she had bad news. She said that $50 million dollars was gone in an hour and we did not get our consideration for the grant.
As a taxpayer who relies on face-to-face customers to survive as a business, COVID-19 has taken a dramatic hit to our local food company, so to see that we were not able to get funding from this grant program was disheartening. I can only image the hundreds of other companies who probably did not get their application submitted either. There are some SBA loans available for relief, but if there is limited revenue coming in for a business, taking on a loan may be prohibitive to their business. Grant programs are essential for business success, but who gets them and who does not?
The local entrepreneur who has a dream that is being crushed by the pandemic is hurting and having to rob Peter to pay Paul. But what happens when Peter no longer has any money for you to rob? The forgotten entrepreneurs, innovators, creators, and visionaries are being put in a tight spot by lost revenue. As some get funding and others do not, there is a natural selection going on and some are on the outside of funding programs touted to help those who are struggling. Who is picking the winners and the losers of the pandemic? Are the winners the usual winners and are the losers the usual losers in the history of funding programs?
We, as entrepreneurs, must start to see our businesses differently. We must find ways to create jobs and provide recession-proof services and products. We must adapt to other streams of income and create more intellectual property and think 10 steps ahead of the pandemic. How can we come out on top of this historic dilemma? We can do it, but funding is needed.
Corey Carolina is an NSU graduate, North Tulsa entrepreneur and activist, and owner of Carolina Food Co. He is also an author, his first book being "The Absent Father."